When a parent disrupts the custody rights of the other parent, it is called custodial interference. Custodial interference occurs when a parent refuses to release the child to the other parent, takes the child from the other parent, or otherwise intentionally interferes with the other parents rightful physical custody. Custodial interference can also occur when the parents have joint physical custody.
When a parent is committing custodial interference, it is a crime punishable by law. The penalties vary depending on the state laws; in California, it can be punishable by jail time. States can also have extra provisions for taking the child out of the country, and custodial interference can even become a state or federal charge of parental kidnapping. Custodial interference can be committed in a variety of ways, including:
- Refusing to release the child to the other parents for a scheduled visit
- Limiting the child’s phone contact with the other parent
- Keeping the child past the time specified in a parent’s custodial rights
- Enticing the child away from the custodial parent
- Visiting the child while the other parent is supposed to have custody
In a few select situations, custodial interference is not a violation of the law. Custodial interference is not punishable if:
- The parent is protecting the child from danger
- Events outside of the parent’s control prevent the timely return of the child, such as bad weather
- The parents previously agreed to disrupt the custodial arrangements, for an engagement such as a trip
Some states also allow defenses for custodial interference, for instance, the parent might claim they were acting under the belief that if they did not remove the child, the other parent would have removed the child from the court’s jurisdiction, like out of the state or country. Some states also take the child’s wishes into account, usually when the child is at least 14 years of age. The child may waive the custodial interference charge if they claim they chose not to return to the other parent. Some parents withhold a child because they did not receive court-ordered child support, however, this is usually not a valid defense.
If your ex-spouse is infringing on your custodial arrangement, you have many options available to you. A parent if entitled to report custodial interference to the court and to law enforcement. Parents do have the option file for contempt-of-court. Commonly, parents might create new and more specific orders for visitation to prevent future violations. Courts may order for visitation time to make up for the visitation lost, or for compensation for attorney’s fees to be paid by the offending parent to the other parent. The court may also order mediation and family therapy.
In more extreme cases, the courts may require supervised parenting time by a third party for the offending parent, child transfers at a neutral location, restrictions in custody, loss of custody, fines or fees, or jail time. Action and remedy vary depending on the severity of the situation, and a parent should consult an attorney for advice on their specific circumstance.